Environment funding call

Jeff Weir. Photo Elise Unmack.
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A long-term environmentalist fears he might not be able to continue his work. Elise Unmack reports.

After nearly 50 years in marine conservation, the founding director of the Dolphin Research Institute (DRI) says unless the community recognises the importance of environmental protection he might not be able to continue key work.

Jeff Weir, who has been involved in the preservation of local marine environments and education programs since the early 1970s, says he has always felt that protection of the environment should be a higher priority for Australians.

Mr Weir says that funding for environmental agencies is too low a priority for both State and Federal Governments and that “almost every issue the Research Institute has faced has been caused by lack of funds.”

The lack of funding has led the institute to seek donations from the community to continue its work in marine protection. It may now halt the DRI’s plans to expand a schools program called iSea iCare into the wider community over the next 10 years.

Mr Weir’s contribution to marine research and conservation was
recognised this year when he received the Order of Australia Medal.

Since the Dolphin Research Institute was founded in 1991, Mr Weir has worked alongside a team of marine experts, researchers and biologists to preserve and conserve both Western Port Bay and Port Phillip Bay.

Marina on the the Mornington Peninsula. Photo Elise Unmack.

The institute has worked to ensure the Mornington Peninsula coastal environment is protected into the future.

The Institute works with primary schools from Bayside, Kingston, Frankston, Mornington Peninsula, Casey and Geelong in a program which aims to “develop leaders and change behaviors to benefit our marine treasures.”

Through its iSea iCare program, the Dolphin Research Institute has educated more than 100,00 children and adults about the importance of conservation in our marine environments, and helped ensure environmental and marine preservation was incorporated in the Victorian school curriculum.

Past iSea iCare ambassador, Hannah Morgan, 18, says she believes that “the program was beneficial not only for [her] and the other ambassadors but for the entire school community.”

As a partner with the DRI, her primary school, Kunyung Primary, “learnt all about the importance of conserving [its] marine backyard”.

Mr Weir says he believes that it is so difficult to make progress with the current government funding due to the time limit put on the budget allocated to environmental agencies, which only lasts three years. This time restriction “isn’t long enough to make permanent change”, he says.

Despite these difficulties, the institute continues to work for behavioral change to help ensure the future of marine preservation.